After their eight years in retail business intelligence, building to offer retail technology services from analytics to point of sale implementation – including helping to bring the entire Sears Christmas Wish Book catalogue online, T4G Limited has expanded into the realm of environmental monitoring systems required by manufacturing and primary industries.
The Toronto-based consulting firm, along with Washington-based Moore Environmental Solutions, has helped Canadian forest products company Tembec implement a new environmental management information system (EMIS) which employs standard Microsoft tools. This implementation was completed as scheduled in less than two months and helped Tembec’s operation in Spruce Falls, Ont., pass its external audit and become re-certified to ISO 14001.
This is the first implementation of Microsoft SharePoint Portal server tools used in a suite of environmental solutions to help save time and money in set-up, support and customization, says T4G’s Paul Barter. The vice-president, sales and marketing reports that it also creates a framework that can be replicated in other departments throughout the company.
What is happening at Spruce Falls will potentially change the way companies have traditionally looked at and implemented EMIS systems, predicts Moore Environmental Solutions president Margery Moore. The system uses Microsoft tools in an innovative manner by integrating Outlook/Exchange with in-house resources that support an environment native to the IT group, she notes.
Because so many companies already have a Microsoft platform, Barter pitches this approach as a welcome alternative to the standalone software packages from companies such as Corbus, GreenWare, Caribou Systems, Enflex, Essential Technologies and Terralink Software, or the enterprise solutions from companies such as Amadeus Corp., Blue 292 and EcosTech.
“There are a lot of standalone vertical packages that have been out there for things like compliance management, process flow, regulatory tracking and environmental health and safety,” Barter explains. He describes these as vertical applications that are bought on a case by case basis and do not tend to integrate with the other pieces.
“Then there are generic environmental management information systems similar to the type of thing we’re talking about here…that tend to be proprietary systems and you have to buy the whole package,” he continues. “If you’re a large organization and you’ve got an existing data and IT infrastructure, you’ve still got to buy this whole package from these vertical vendors. They are really solid good systems but they are very expensive.
“We looked at the enterprise-wide systems and we said really there’s a certain amount of environmental logic here and it is running on enterprise hardware and software systems that have low volumes and have high prices associated with those low volumes,” he explains. “We thought: what if we could take the price performance of the Intel platform and Microsoft platforms and from the tools that they already have in place, build the environmental logic into those tools?”
So, T4G in effect built environmental logic on top of Microsoft SharePoint, the portal server that Barter says is really a document management type of solution. He sees it appealing to the many manufacturers, mill facilities or whoever has environmental emission concerns and who have a Microsoft-based information technology system in place.
“In most cases, they don’t have to buy new hardware, new server software. They would need a copy of SharePoint and the development software we did, which really just takes SharePoint and adds the specific capabilities required to implement an environmental management information system, and they probably need some consulting in order to help them get it up and running,” he says.
Leveraging existing infrastructure and gaining the cost effectiveness of volume software translates to saving time and money in set-up, support and customization, notes T4G. It also creates a framework that can be replicated in a company’s other departments. The result, Barter adds, is that companies gain the capability of enterprise-type environmental management information solutions at “certainly less than half and maybe even less than one quarter” the cost of traditional solutions, depending on the industry and application.
And the roll-out is fast, according to Barter. He suggests traditional enterprise systems where the user needs to buy a new platform, buy software, install it and train people could take a year to implement. “The attraction behind this system is that virtually all these people (mid-market or multi-site manufacturers or mill facilities) already have a Microsoft network so it goes in on their existing platform.”
T4G claims the ROI is typically several times the cost of implementation for the system. Barter points out that GM and Ford, for instance, are insisting their suppliers meet ISO 14001 standards by 2003-2005. He argues that if by having these certifications enables one to sell in markets one couldn’t otherwise, the ROI is in orders of magnitude.
At Tembec, a company proud of its sound environmental policies, since its two-month implementation, the new system is helping close gaps in the environmental monitoring system by providing a user-friendly, electronic portal that handles all environmental document management needs.
“In a world of Kyoto, as we head down that line, one of the challenges people have talked about is the cost of implementing all these systems,” Barter adds. “This is just one piece of a very large pie associated with that but if you can do it for a half or quarter of the price that you historically had to do it for, then we’re headed in the right direction.”